Say you’re at a bar with a few friends, and that last Manhattan or brew hits you just a bit harder than you expected. You thought you’d be okay to drive, but now you’re worried. But wait: There’s an app for that, you remember. Uber or Lyft have come to your town, so you pull out your phone, request a ride, and relax—you’ve got a safe, sober, affordable ride home.
Ridesharing isn’t your only option if you find yourself too drunk to drive, of course. Traditional cab drivers also have a vested interested in keeping drunk drivers off the road. But new evidence shows that the specific introduction of ridesharing services like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar has decreased DUIs in cities including Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco—all cities with established, robust taxi industries. So what’s the difference? And does ridesharing actually cause a significant reduction in the number of DUIs, or are those two factors merely correlative?
New Ridesharing + DUI Research in Philly
Nate Good, CTO of Pittsburgh-based event ticketing company Showclix, recently dug through public data records to unearth some fascinating analysis on the correlation between the introduction of Uber Black, Sidecar, and UberX to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and the number of DUI arrests. It’s important to note first that Pennsylvania has more of a drunk driving problem than the national average: According to Uber’s blog, “In Pennsylvania, alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths exceed the national average by 24 percent, and alcohol is responsible for 38 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities—one of the highest rates in the nation.”
Sure enough, Good found a statistically substantial dip in DUI arrests beginning immediately after Uber Black was launched in Philadelphia. Good found that after all ride-sharing services were in effect (April 2013 through the end of 2013), the average number of DUIs across the board dropped by 11 percent. For those riders under age 30, the drop was even more significant: They showed an 18.5 percent decrease in DUIs.
Good is quick to point out that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. But it is interesting that his 11 percent figure hovers so closely to the same figures that Uber itself has found in Chicago and San Francisco.
We reached out to Uber for comment on the findings, and spoke via email with spokesperson Lauren Altmin. “Uber was created to ensure that people could access a reliable ride, wherever and whenever,” Altmin says. “As a byproduct of Uber’s mission, we’ve seen significant social and economic impacts, including a decline in DUI arrests, in cities across the country.”
As to why UberX might be more effective than taxis at curbing drunk driving? “The safe, transparent and seamless nature of the app, as well as prices that average 40 percent cheaper than a taxi, all contribute to reasons why users choose to utilize UberX as an important and necessary alternative to drunk driving,” Altmin adds. “Uber is thrilled to contribute to the overall welfare of the cities in which we operate, and looks forward to continuing these efforts by providing readily available access to convenient and affordable rides at the touch of a button.”
We’ve thought about this too, and it makes a lot of sense: This particular writer now orders her pizza via an app or online, rather than have to face the horror of speaking to someone about it over the phone. The fact that ridesharing services have not just adapted to smartphone tech but instead were borne out of it might be enough to cause a difference, especially for younger riders.
Drivers Speak Out
There’s anecdotal evidence to support Good’s research, too. We spoke with one Uber driver from California who is also a retired firefighter, who says he has seen “both sides of the equation.” “I believe that the ride sharing services most definitely have a positive effect on how people go out to drinking,” says Scott Miller, who’s been driving for Uber for a year in Orange County, Calif. “I have had clients from all walks of life, many who already know the benefits of Uber, etc. and use them on a regular basis. DUI costs in California are $10,000+ and what is a $10 ride home compared to the monetary but also possible costs to life, limb and career?”
Miller also adds that he’s driven people who have gotten DUI’s—”along with taken some people to their community service as part of their DUI conviction.”
Given that Uber has already done preliminary studies on its effect on drunk driving, it will be interesting to see if it is the company itself or another that spearheads further research on the topic. I would be curious to see if the effect is less pronounced in cities with robust taxi offerings, or more public transportation options (like NYC). It will also be interesting, over time, to see if this is a spike, somehow related to the apps being new, or if this is a permanent change. Will even more DUIs be prevented five years from now? It might depend largely on what regulators decide to do with ride-sharing companies.
Every 53 minutes on average, someone is killed in a drunk driving crash. We say anything that could provide a 10 percent dip in DUI convictions is worth exploring more as a possible way to change that horrific statistic. What do you think?